It’s been a while since we checked in with Patrick Smith, author of the terrific “Ask a Pilot” column for Salon. And with all the crashing and whatnot in the Hudson and Buffalo, it’s a good time to revisit some things.
First, according to Smith’s latest, we all have to calm down with the Sully business. It’s not that Chesley Sullenberger’s actions weren’t admirable, courageous, or competent — but let’s all pull our fingers off the HERO button for just a cool minute. Why? Because luck played a huge role in Sully’s success:
Had the bird strike occurred under darkness or in fog, over a section of the city beyond gliding range to the Hudson, the result almost certainly would have been a catastrophe, and no amount of talent or experience would have prevented it. Indeed the annals of aviation are rich with examples of pilots who answered the call of duty with as much or more bravery and skill as Sullenberger and Skiles. Through no fault of their own, they didn’t survive to make the talk-show rounds.
The good news, Smith says, is that Sully knows this better than anybody — and brings it up on every possible occasion. The bad news is that men like Sully are a dying breed. Because of the airline industry’s woes, pilot salaries have dropped so low that you might be better off working at Jiffy Lube.
Seriously. Check it out:
It will surprise most people to learn that starting pay for a pilot at a major is somewhere around $30,000 annually.
That’s after the arduous, less-than-lucrative path the typical new hire has followed to get there. Historically, upward of 80 percent of major carrier new hires were recruited from the military. That number has fallen to around 50 percent in recent years. Civilian-trained pilots must first earn their various Federal Aviation Administration license and ratings, a piecemeal process that often takes years and can cost $100,000 or more. Next comes a stint as an instructor or light-plane charter pilot, followed by several years at one or more regional carriers — those Connection and Express and Airlink affiliates — where opening salaries are between $14,000 and $20,000 per year. There are no missing digits in those figures; a first officer at the controls of a $25 million regional jet brings home roughly what he’d make working at the mall.
Jesus effing Christ on a hockey stick. If I knew my regional jet pilots made less than me I would have bailed out over Yakima.